Dan Custis CEO and Co-Founder, ABM

It can be exhilarating moving into new, international markets. One of my passions is bringing our products into new countries and working with the farmers there. With a little forethought and preparation in a few areas, the challenges you’ll face navigating the deep waters of international business will be easily overcome or avoided altogether.

1. Know Your Market

The No. 1 consideration is the market. Understand the market you’re breaking into and what crops are being addressed. Determine specific crop needs. For example, before entering a new market, we would determine if a biostimulant or disease and/or insect control is required for improving crop health, quality and yields.

2. Understand the Culture

Abandon the North American way of doing business. We can’t take our ways of carrying out business to another country and assume people there will understand what we mean. Research the country’s culture before making contact. Understand how business is conducted in that country. The last thing you want to do is insult people with the way you want to do business. Understand who your customer is and what their goals are—and culture is a big part of that.

Additionally, understand the farming practices in that country. Consider if you will be supplying commercial or small stakeholder farmers, or both, for example. Also, who does the farming in that country? When I traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was completely surprised that women did most of the work. The men treated the seed, but it was the women who sowed the seed and did the farming.

The USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service provides reports on countries you may be interested in doing business with. Those reports provide background on markets, culture and how business is conducted in other countries. 

It’s also helpful to ask a lot of questions when you’re talking with individuals from different countries about how they carry out business. In many African and Latin American countries, for example, people are not in a rush, so business is carried out at a slower pace.

3. Distribution

If you have been contacted by a distributor or company interested in distributing your product in their country, do a background check so you know who you’re dealing with. For example, are they a legitimate agricultural chemical distributor or retailer? How long has the company been in business? Are they financially sound? Do they have the sales force required to distribute your product?

Once we have been contacted by a distributor, we do background checks and determine the markets and crops the company is interested in. From there, we would enter into a non-disclosure agreement to get the ball rolling. 

Once a material transfer agreement is in place, the company can perform initial product testing (see below). From those results, we would work with the company on a distribution agreement. The distributor would provide us with the details of the registration process for that particular country, which we would begin. Around this time, we’ll also visit that particular country.

4. Understand the Registration Process

One of the biggest challenges you could face is product registration. Each country has a different registration process. Some countries may take three to six months to register a product and in others it may be 12 to 24. 

Although we also research this area, we look for distributors who have expertise in the registration process and can determine the fastest and easiest way to get a product registered. We work with, and provide information to, the distributor to meet registration requirements.

It’s important to own the product registration in the country you’re doing business with, and this can be a challenge. If a distributor registers your product in South East Asia, for example, under the agent’s trade name, that product belongs to the distributor. If you want to change distributors, you have to re-register the product under a different trade name. You must stipulate in your agreement that you own the registration for the product.

5. Product Testing

Effective product testing is an important part of the process. We give the companies or distributors we’re working with a testing protocol which they implement for initial testing of our products. We want to see that testing carried out in multiple locations.

Despite the challenges you may have to overcome, working with people in other countries and from different cultures is extremely rewarding. And there’s nothing like the feeling of helping farmers improve the health and quality of their crops as well as increase their yields.

Just remember to do your homework, be cautious, and go slow.